Minimum Rage: College Grads in the Service Industry
Facing a tough job market and a student debt crisis, many recent college grads are being forced back into service industry jobs.
We internalized the message that service jobs aren’t ‘real’ jobs. We wanted to be writers, therapists, lawyers. We didn’t want to spend our working lives reciting specials and making drinks.
DAVID VELEZ / DAVID60F7.DEVIANTART.COM
Behind the bar of a fancy New York restaurant, a 27-year-old bartender tidies her olive-and-cherry box. She attempts to look distracted while a middle-aged financial analyst holds her captive with small talk.
“So what else do you do?” he slurs, four Manhattans deep.
“Nothing,” she says. “I just do this.”
“Oh!” he answers. “That’s cool. Did you go to college?”
“Yup. I went to NYU.”
The man makes no attempt to hide his confusion. She leans forward and wipes away a few whiskey drops in front of him.
“I have loans,” she says, with a touch of attitude. “Don’t know what to tell you.”
A Cautionary Tale for College Grads
Emily Sanders has been a waitress or bartender, on and off, for almost a decade. She has no health insurance, no 401(k), and a pathetic savings account. Most days, she gets to her first job at noon and leaves her second after midnight. If she’s sick but a little short on cash, she downs some DayQuil and goes into work anyway.
We all know an Emily. Six years ago, I was an Emily. After college I waited tables at a now-closed restaurant where she and I met. I was a server for years, through internships, passion projects, and freelancing, until I landed a full-time job doing what I love. Emily hasn’t been as lucky. Neither have a lot of my peers.
For kids who grew up middle-class, Emily is the embodiment of a cautionary tale: “You don’t want to end up flipping burgers all your life.” We internalized the message that service jobs aren’t “real” jobs. We wanted to be writers, therapists, lawyers. We didn’t want to spend our working lives reciting specials and making drinks. Even when these jobs drag on for years, we tell ourselves this isn’t what we’re really doing. It’s OK for now. It’s only temporary.
That was Emily’s assumption. Her middle-class mom managed to send her to boarding school, where she got decent grades and ended up at NYU’s artsy enclave, the Gallatin School. The summer before her senior year, Emily was broke and decided she wanted “one of those real waitressing jobs.” So, in December 2005, she got a job at a busy, boozy tapas restaurant in the East Village.
Since then, Emily has worked in half a dozen restaurants, taught English in Italy, and had a short stint at an office. Right now, she’s back to bartending. Her coworkers are actors teetering over the hill, aspiring real estate agents, office drones moonlighting for extra cash, breadwinners, Mexican immigrants who want to go back and build a house in Oaxaca. They are waiting for their lives to start or trying desperately to maintain them.
Still, Emily is the “1 percent” of restaurant workers—she makes a lot more money than your average minimum-wage, chain-restaurant employee. But even cream-of-the-crop gigs offer no benefits, little chance for advancement, and no recourse if you’re fired. Which could happen anytime, for any reason. Most of these jobs are pretty bad. And Emily considers herself lucky to have one.
Page: 1 | 2
| Next >>